Meadville Tribune

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April 26, 2013

Report focuses on jail staff training and pay, but at what cost?

SAEGERTOWN — The Crawford County Prison Board supports increased training and pay for the Crawford County Correctional Facility’s staff, but whether the increase happens depends on money.

Increasing staff training and raising the pay rate for per diem employees are recommendations that are part of a 52-page independent report of the jail by representatives of the National Institute of Corrections.

The report, issued earlier this month, called the jail “a very well-run facility.”

The report came about after the Crawford County Prison Board voted Jan. 24 to have an independent review of jail operations by the National Institute of Corrections at no cost to the county. The board’s action was in response to a small group of critics which publicly raised concerns about the jail’s operations following a handful of high-profile incidents over the past few years at the jail.

The NIC representatives interviewed staff, inmates, prison board members and the public during a two-day visit to the jail on March 18 and 19. The NIC, an agency within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, has no official jurisdiction over county jails, so its investigators only make recommendations, not mandates.

A number of the recommendations in the report already have been implement, Warden Tim Lewis told the prison board at its month meeting Thursday at the jail in Saegertown. This is the first time the prison board publicly spoke of the report as a group.

Lewis said the jail is working to have staff have training on suicide prevention and biohazards in conjunction with PrimeCare Medical, the jail’s new health care provider.

Training record logs for employees are more detailed so it can be determined which employees had what training and when.

However, Lewis said, adding suggested items such as a training coordinator position, sending staff to additional training inside or outside the area, and a self-directed staff teaching center with videos and magazines may be harder.

He said the jail has only a $7,500 annual training budget for staff. Lewis said training has been coordinated by himself, the deputy warden and the jail’s lieutenants. Lewis said training also is offered to per diem employees.

“I’ve had it (a training coordinator) in the budget in the past, but it’s been removed by previous boards (of county commissioners),” Lewis said.

Lewis said he’s also tried to get the per diem employee pay rate of $8.50 per hour raised to compete with surrounding counties. Other counties are in the $10 per hour range for their per diem employees, he said.

Lewis said he has a meeting scheduled next week with Mark Lessig, the county’s human resources director, about the use of per diem employees.

The NIC report raised concerned about the disparity both in pay and training between per diem staff and full-time staff.

The jail has a full-time staff of 60 and about 15 per diem workers who are called in on an as-needed basis to fill in for vacations, illness or training.

“While we understand the financial issues related to maintaining a pool of full-time employees, it is important for the county to recognize that there can be liability consequences related to cutting corners in staffing and training,” the report found.

Crawford County’s three commissioners, who are among the seven members of the county prison board, agree training should be enhanced, but they are concerned about it.

“As a commissioner, I’m certainly willing to work with him at budget time this fall to see what we can do,” commissioner Chairman Francis Weiderspahn Jr. said at Thursday’s jail board meeting. “Obviously, some of these things will come with additional cost. I’m certainly willing to work with him to see what we can do to get those things implemented as much as possible.”

Commissioner C. Sherman Allen said he’d like to see not only more training, but psychological testing as well for employees to make sure they are compatible with the job. Allen suggested deputy training may be available via webinars and other inexpensive means as a way to control costs.

Over all, jail board members agreed the report was very upbeat for the facility with no deficiencies, but there is room for improvement. By state law, county prison board members are the county’s three commissioners, sheriff, county treasurer, district attorney and a county judge.

Sheriff Nick Hoke said increased training for staff is a “step in the right direction” and may eliminate other potential problems.

Commissioners Jack Lynch and Allen said they were glad the review process was very open and included members of the public.

“I would hope that would assure people — though it’s not going to satisfy everyone,” Allen said of the report putting issues involving the jail to rest.

“I would think that it should,” Lynch said. “This was wide open. There were no prohibitions with whom they spoke with.”

Francis Schultz, prison board chairman, said he, too, was pleased with the report and should put to rest questions of wrongdoing at the jail.

“It flies in the face of allegations of how inmates were treated,” Schultz said.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

Read the report

A full copy of the National Institute of Corrections report on the Crawford County Correctional Facility is available at meadvilletribune.com.

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